It has been the toughest week so far in the Noviciate, but of course that is life – we have light and shade, ups and downs.
The big challenge this week was the stark realisation that in some areas of life and in some respects I will be able to achieve less in the Society, at least in the noviciate and early years of formation, than I could achieve in my previous career and life. We attended a conference that looked at issues of real need in society – jobs, community safety and the living wage – and as novices we could only be observers, whereas outside the noviciate there would be an opportunity for a more direct involvement and more specific action and help.
However, it has been a healthy realisation. Life does not always move forward in straight lines and fully understanding the nature of God’s call – which in many respects is what the noviciate is about – comes about through good experiences and bad.
This reality check for me has come after a couple of weeks exploring issues of obedience, authority and mission in our morning conferences. This has been a fruitful period, I think for all of us.
The vow of obedience we hope to take can seem strange at first, but obedience exists in some form in many aspects of everyday life. We have to follow the instructions of our manager at work or follow the rules of the road when we are driving. If not, you lose your job or lose your licence.
However, obedience in a religious context has additional layers to it. One of my colleagues used a great phrase to describe these add-ons: religious obedience is both deeply mystical and deeply mature.
Mystical, because ultimately it is obedience for mission – we are being sent out into the world to build the Kingdom of God and help people to that direct encounter with Christ that is so transformational. So it is mission by Christ, for Christ and, as a result, with Christ.
And, mature, because within the Society of Jesus the order to action follows a process of deep conversation and engagement with our Superior, mainly through a process known as the Account of Conscience. The Superior works with the individual, in a space that is graced by God, so that together they can better understand where God is calling that individual as part of the wider efforts of the Society.
These two elements, (i) the Christ-centred trust and desire and (ii) the adult-like (as opposed to child-like) conversations and discernment, together characterise, as I understand it, the obedience that is sought and practised within the Society.
In the noviciate, we are still ‘in training’ rather than available for mission. And, yes, it can sometimes be frustrating, as I have discovered this week. We can sometimes feel powerless, or pointless, in the face of great need. That is why it is important to continue listening in our hearts – whether in the noviciate or not – so we can fully understand what God is asking of us now and in the future.